New imaging instruments made using laser-based 3-D printing could bring the benefits of such technology to the forefront. NASA aerospace engineer Jason Budinoff is developing a 350-mm dual-channel imaging telescope and a 50-mm camera whose outer tube, baffles and optical mounts are all printed as a single structure. “This is a pathfinder. When we build telescopes for science instruments, it usually involves hundreds of pieces,” Budinoff said, noting that those components are complex and expensive to build. “But with 3-D printing, we can reduce the overall number of parts and make them with nearly arbitrary geometries.” In particular, the 50-mm camera’s design features four different pieces made of powdered aluminum and titanium; a comparable camera manufactured in a traditional way requires up to 10 times as many components. Also, the instrument's baffling is angled in a pattern not possible with conventional approaches. An exploded view of the 50-mm imaging camera, which shows the mirrors and integrated optical-mechanical structures currently in development. Courtesy of NASA. This camera will fit a CubeSat, Budinoff said, which is a tiny satellite comprised of individual units. It will be equipped with conventionally fabricated mirrors and glass lenses. Budinoff is developing these instruments and telescopes to show how they can benefit from the ever-advancing 3-D additive manufacturing technology, and how powdered aluminum can be used to produce 3-D-manufactured telescope mirrors. The instruments should soon be ready for space-qualification testing, according to Budinoff. He also ultimately plans to show that additive-machined instruments could fly. “We will have mitigated the risk, and when future program managers ask, ‘Can we use this technology?’ we can say, ‘Yes, we already have qualified it,’” he said. “Anyone who builds optical instruments will benefit from what we’re learning here.” The work is funded by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies's Internal Research and Development program. For more information, visit www.nasa.gov.